My Shingle

2014: The Year of New Law, No Hashtag

by Carolyn Elefant on December 18, 2014 · 0 comments

in Future of Law

In May of 2014, Jordan Furlong published a comprehensive list of the universe of NewLaw business models – some that increase lawyers’ efficiencies, others that marginalize or eliminate the need for lawyers. But even though 2014 may have been a watershed for #newlaw, it was an even bigger year for new law, no hashtag.

What I mean by new law, no hashtag is law uninvented. Precedent not yet written. The kind of law where an old fogey like me doesn’t have any inherent substantive advantage over a newbie just out of school.

In all of my years of blogging, I can hardly recall a year with so many emerging issues on the horizon. Some arise out of new technology developments – like the legal issues associated with wearable tech or drones (which also raise ethics issues ) for lawyers. Others have resulted from policy changes, such as liberalized marijuana law or legalization of same sex marriage.

There have been zeitgeist changes too such that we’re more comfortable with the sharing and crowdsourcing. The freelance economy raises a whole new set of employment issues – and as Uber has disrupted traditional regulated taxi services, it’s become a veritable first year issue spotting exam on criminal law and liability, insurance law, price gauging and regulation. [click to continue…]

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Do you ever have a bunch of data that you need to compile but don’t want to take the time of fussing with Excel spreadsheets or creating tables? In this kind of situation, I’ll create my own data intake using Google’s Free Form creator.  I find it easier to enter the data through a form, plus once I’ve established the field, the table headers automatically generate with no additional set up.  For my demonstration, I’ve compiled easy-to-find bar opinions and rules on use of trade names by law firms. Here are the steps as well as the final product:

Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 12.28.17 PM

 

STEP 1 – Go to Google Forms

Once there,  “create free form.” You probably need a Google account because ultimately, the final document will be deposited in your Google Drive. [click to continue…]

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MyShingle Turns Twelve.

by Carolyn Elefant on December 10, 2014 · 12 comments

in Announcements, MyShingle Solo

Twelve years and a couple of hours ago, I launched MyShingle.com, determined to create a site that would
support and celebrate solo and small firm lawyers . Since then, so much has changed within the legal profession and for me personally.

Just to take one example, the Yellow Pages are no longer the preferred form (by a wide margin) of lawyer advertising as they were according to this poll that I ran back in 2003. Offshoring work to India was still an outlier trend in 2003 ; by 2011, Thomson-Reuters had acquired Pangea , a leading India-based LPO.

Other familiar players are no longer. Nolo Publishing – the great grandaddy of DIY Law and once a loyal sponsor of MyShingle (in return for which, I also penned a special Legal Marketing Blawg ) is no longer the radical upstart trying to expand access to law by providing self-help guides. Instead. all of Nolo’s beautiful educational resources are simply a huge source of content ripe for acquisition by an internet marketing company. Likewise, once venerable (albeit elitist) lawyer director Martindale Hubbell was bought up by the same group, a victim of competition with Avvo’s similar but more democratic ratings system.

As well-known brands change hands, not everything changed for solos. Back in 2003 I advocated for loan forgiveness for solos who frequently perform “involuntary” pro bono and represent clients who most large firms won’t touch. Though neither Congress nor law schools have taken up this proposal, ever resourceful solos have found a way to share in the benefits of loan forgiveness by creating their own non-profit firms .

Solos also continue to fight off competitors real and perceived. Back in 2004, before the economy imploded, solos and smalls feared displacement by full service big law firms that could provide clients with everything they needed all in one place – albeit at a high cost, and often at reduced quality if the firm didn’t specialize in all of those practice areas. Turned out, however, that when economic times grew tough, biglaw’s clients got going – either to India, to alternatives like Axiom and yes, big law partners realized that with the power of technology, they could hang shingles and compete for traditionally big firm clients.

Today, solos and smalls still face threats. Only now, it’s from legal start ups and form fillers , hackademics who deride the work that solos do and even our very own ABA, which seeks to foist the burden for access to justice on solos .

Blogging of course, has changed as well. The perennial question “is blogging dead” has been
dissected since 2005, when most lawyers still hadn’t heard of blogging, and continues to generate comment. My take? Blogging is still around but it’s not what it was back in the heady days when I released MyShingle into the world. Back in 2003, the community was small and bloggers wrote from the heart, shared substance and debated with passion and without hard feelings. Sure, there’s something called blogging that big law does it’s really more of a law firm newsletter posted online, and there’s the SEO-driven, connect-the-keyword variant that you’ll find at many solo and small firm blogs. Don’t get me wrong – the free content is more useful than other types of advertising (memo to big law: the information published by teams of associates at big firm blogs is ripe for picking by solos like myself who use much of that content for free to serve our clients, not to refer you cases). But slick design and corporate content lacks the soul of a fresh blog post, flown fresh from ten passionate fingers careening down the keyboard at 100 words a minute.

Blogging aside, technology continues to transform the legal profession. When I started MyShingle in 2002, I was working on a PC. It wasn’t until 2011 that a Mac lap top had declined sufficiently in cost and grew compatible enough with other legal programs used in my practice that I could justify the purchase . Now, the Mac is a top choice for solos. Meanwhile, the cloud – which was still called SaaS when I started MySHingle now dominates the law practice management scene, making practice management those who don’t use one of the full service pioneers like Rocket Matter, Clio or MyCase are still likely to use some type of cloud based product like Google Apps or Time59 for calendaring and billing – which increases efficiency and enables lawyers to focus more on clients. Even after all this time, I don’t think that we have even come close to tapping technology’s potential to improve both the quality and the quantity of legal services that solos and smalls deliver to clients.

MyShingle hasn’t just been the place where I track developments in the legal profession; I’ve also used it to mark the passage of time in my personal life. My girls were 3 and 6 when I launched MyShingle, working late into the night setting up the site, feeling only exhilaration (fatigue would come later and I could often be found napping on park benches while my daughters frolicked on the playground). Now my little girls are grown up: my older girl is gone , and I’m already counting down the clock until her sister – already a 10th grader – will depart as well. As my daughter grew, my professional life went through different phases. With the arrival of my first daughter, I moved from an office space across the street from the White House to working a round-the-clock schedule mostly from home. I cut back on work further with my second and resumed a full-time out of the home office with an intern and part time associate when my daughters were in school full time. Say what you will about home offices – but the home office option and ability to be location independent kept my career from completely losing momentum while my daughters were young (though make no mistake – I still didn’t advance as far as I would have if I’d have worked a traditional full-time schedule) – and has now allowed me to continue working as my family’s sole breadwinner since my husband’s diagnosis of brain cancer six months ago. You never know what life will bring.

Twelve years is a long, long, LONG time to stick to one thing — particularly during a time of explosive change, where the pace of technology is constantly creating new opportunities (case in point: take a look at many of the early stage bloggers who have built booming practices or successful businesses, or transitioned to other positions as a result of capital created through blogging). My pace of posting has slowed over the past few months, and I’ve considered taking a break . At some point, it will be time to move on, but not just yet. Because so long as there are ABA policies that incense me , practice tips that intrigue me, questions by other lawyers that remain unanswered about the ups and downs of solo practice, and most of all, so long as there are solo lawyers who amaze and inspire and deserve recognition – well, that’s reason enough to keep on blogging.

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For years, I’ve been a proponent of relying on independent contractors, freelancers, and other outsourced or temporary labor to provide back up during a busy spell, to test potential full-time hires or to ease into growing solo . Yet, while I’ve used freelancers over the years both in my practice and for various projects at this blog, several factors inhibited wider use. Although several freelancers I’ve used in the past delivered court-ready quality, not surprisingly, they command higher rates which don’t always fit my budget or are in high demand, so I can’t always obtain the speedy turn around time that I need. Meanwhile, my results with cheaper freelancers were mixed at best (as in matters turned in four weeks late to simple cluelessness about tackling a research project), while placement agencies didn’t always vet candidates as I would have (some couldn’t write their way out of a paper bag), didn’t necessarily give me access to lower cost candidates and took a 30 to 50 percent cut off the contract lawyer’s fee meaning that unless I forked up at least $125/hour, the contract lawyer would earn a pittance.

So recently, after some negative experiences, I’ve been a bit more gun shy about using contract workers. Until a few weeks ago, when juggling several time-sensitive litigation matters in multiple forums and unable to get by on four hours sleep indefinitely, I caved. I needed someone on a short-term basis to advance discovery in a federal court matter and while the matters involved quick turn around, they weren’t rocket science, so a high-end freelancer wasn’t necessary. So on a whim, I decided to turn to Hire an Esquire . Truth be told, I’d explored the site a few years back when it first launched and wasn’t impressed. At that time, only a few jobs posted, there weren’t many freelancers listed on the site and the interface didn’t work very well. However, I’d recently seen an article that the company received an infusion of venture capital , so I assumed that it must have improved.

And how! As it turned out, my experience with Hire an Esquire was seamless (even when there was a glitch) and the site produced exactly the results that I wanted from a placement agency. Below, I’ll describe how the site works, highlight best features of Hire an Esquire, and why I felt good about using it:
[click to continue…]

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Stand Up for Solos: Our Horton Moment

by Carolyn Elefant on November 26, 2014 · 1 comment

in Announcements, Future of Law

Horton Hears a WhoI know, I’m a glutton for punishment. But ensuring a future for solos and smalls is too important a task to let slide. And so, I intend to file comments to the ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Services .

And you should too. Because the  Commission that declare wants to find ways for solos and smalls to do even more pro bono needs to hear from us.  So share your views of the challenges of solo and small firm practice, and our importance to the judicial system. Let the Commission know what would make your practice easier, what would enable you to reduce costs or lessen barriers to competition with non-lawyer providers.

This is our Horton comment.  The Commission needs to know from solos and smalls that “We are here! We are here! We are here!” and that a law firm’s a law firm, not matter how small.  Send comments to the Commission at IPcomments@americanbar.org.

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People Regret Not Working Harder – Not Working Too Hard

November 25, 2014 by Carolyn Elefant

One of the most annoying memes dominating my Facebook feed lately is this one: Deathbed Regrets: The 5 Wishes of Most Dying People. I’m not bothered so much about the incessantly plauditory comments the meme invokes (so true! great reminder to reset my priorities!) or the fact that thoughts of death are closer to me […]

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Please Attend the Iron Lawyer Competition at Georgetown Law Dec. 3

November 24, 2014 by Carolyn Elefant

I am so excited to be judging the upcoming round of the Iron Lawyer Competition, to be held at Georgetown Law School, 11 am – 1 pm December 3, 2014, details here . I blogged about the inaugural round of the event back in April 2013, and have returned to watch the subsequent rounds. Each […]

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How Staying On the Cutting Edge About New Technology Can Avert a Fate Of Dressing Up Like Thomas Jefferson Pleading For Your Law License

November 24, 2014 by Carolyn Elefant

“I had no idea that cellphones had GPS capabilities at that time…if I had known it, I’d have been on it like a dog on a bone.” [26:19] A recent Forbes article reports on a case out of Calgary, billed as “the first known personal injury case that will use activity data from a Fitbit:” […]

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Product Development for Lawyers

November 17, 2014 by Carolyn Elefant

Editor’s Note:  I’m very excited to host this post by Eva Hibnick and Allen Rodriguez, co-founders of a law innovation agency, One 400, focusing on helping law firms build products, create inbound marketing channels and acquire clients. I realize that many lawyers don’t want to see legal work commoditized, but if that’s inevitable, I’d rather […]

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Flexible Legal Arrangements Can Work – At Least Some of the Time…

November 14, 2014 by Carolyn Elefant

It’s all about the clients. And what’s great to hear is that many of today’s clients don’t just tolerate but increasingly, are coming to accept lawyers for whom work-life balance matters. At least that’s been the experience of Frances Wood and Jennifer Gold, the two women who founded Wood Gold, an Ontario-based, family friendly law […]

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